Natural Cheese – Raw milk, No selected starters

“Cheese is natural if it reflects nature. In nature it’s not always sunny or cloudy. Nature has its cycle, its surprises both good and bad. Making a natural raw milk cheese means being able to taste, every day, a particular sunrise or sunset.”
Giampaolo Gaiarin, interview

Now we’ve found a varied pasture and a local breed ready to graze on its favorite grasses and flowers—rich in water, fiber, aromatic compounds and pigments—it’s time for milking.

If the meadow in question is a summer mountain pasture and the animal in question is a cow, then we’ll get a milk whose coloryellowis caused by the carotene pigment in the forage.

MILK

Such a precious substance must be treated with respect: produced well, conserved properly, not contaminated with dirty tools. It’s the only way to preserve the aromatic profile and useful bacteria which ensure our cheeses reflect the time and place they come from.

Until a few decades ago, a drop of milk might have contained a million bacteria, of which 800,000 were necessary for making cheese. Today, in the same quantity of milk we find a drastically reduced number of bacteria: from 100,000 down to as little as 5000. This loss of microbial diversity is particularly evident in the case of pasteurized milk, but raw milk is not exempt either.

SELECTED STARTERS VS SELF-MADE STARTERS

To overcome this lack of naturally-occurring bacteria, the fastest way is to use industrially-produced ferments, i.e. lactic acid bacteria, also known as selected starter cultures or simply as selected starters. This is the solution that multinationals have offered on a silver plate: industrial ferments produced in a laboratory that give us the cheese profile we expect—there are starters for Emmenthal, Camembert, Stracchino—but which inevitably limit its aromatic profile, and cut the link with its place of origin. The same companies provide rennet, mould, rind treatmeants, liquid smoke. The result? Little natural remains in our cheese. Industry levels the playing field, and it’s a more boring world for all of us.

On the other hand, if a cheesemaker wants to preserve the microbial biodiversity in their cheese, they can make their own milk starter or whey starter through grafting, preserving lots of different bacteria. Each farm has its own: good or bad, favorable or unfavorable to cheesemaking, they’re profoundly linked to their local area, and contribute to the aroma of the cheese. In a natural process we may see these bacteria in a positive light—if the raw milk is preserved properly—or negatively, if it is mistreated.

Choosing a raw milk cheese made without selected starters means choosing a cheese that tells the story of specific plants eaten by a specific animal breed in a unique environment: milk from animals that have grazed on pastures at the beginning of the summer, for example, will give different cheeses than the same milk three weeks later.

Sources
Piero Sardo (edited by), Formaggi naturali, Slow Food Editore 2017
Giampaolo Gaiarin, interview